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Compassionate action arises when we understand that beneath our different circumstances and appearances lies an essential oneness, a shared human experience.
Though we know this oneness includes our self, many of us have an easier time extending compassion to strangers than to the person reflected in our bathroom mirror. However, by not showing self-compassion we exclude ourself from the human race.
Self-compassion means relating to the self with concern and kindness. It requires us to see that flaws, failures, and pain are part of the human condition, and that the person we call “I” shares in the human condition. Each of us is one of those “other people” who deserve appreciation and respect.
In cold climates, ice often builds up on the sidewalk. Frequently, before trying to remove the ice, people sprinkle salt on it so it begins to melt. This makes breaking the ice up and shoveling it away much easier.
Any problem we may have, such as depression or anxiety, can seem to be a thick, slippery buildup of ice. We may chop away at it with self-criticism until we feel exhausted, or we can soften the ice by treating ourself kindly.
Self-compassion is a gentle warmth that loosens the icy grip of self-condemnation. It is not just a lofty spiritual ideal, but part of the human heart’s practical, healing wisdom. So, it seems choosing the compassionate way would be a no-brainer, but for many of us it is a tough decision.
What is tough about self-compassion? It takes courage to let go of the habitual self-critical thoughts we have identified with for much of our lives. It takes daring to embrace self-nurturing thoughts that seem foreign and maybe even foolish. It takes determination because you must prove the benefits of self-compassion to yourself (words such as these prove nothing, but may encourage the effort to apply self-compassion and see how it works).
Fortunately, we do not have to embrace self-compassion all at once; the human condition is built into the process. We experiment, succeed one moment, fail the next, doubt, lose hope, get fed-up with our situation, re-contemplate compassion, and try again. Yet, trying does not mean a series of grand gestures—compassion is effective when gestures are small.
You do not have to feel compassionate to act compassionate. All acts of self-kindness, felt or not, will disrupt established patterns of self-critical thought.
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